Board of Control, England.

Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 15th February 1926.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £26,660, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Board of Control (Lunacy and Mental Deficiency), England, Grants in respect of the Maintenance of certain Ex-Service Mental Patients, and certain Damages and Costs in a legal action.

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

I should like to give a Brief explanation of one or two of the items in this Supplementary Estimate, which will be found on page 20.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

On a point of Order. Do I gather that the hon. Member is dealing with the Estimate for the Board of Control?

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

I understood that the Prime Minister entered into an agreement with the House that these Votes would be taken in their order, as they appeared on the Paper. This Vote is not next in order to the one that was last discussed, and is it in order, having regard to the promise of the Prime Minister, to discuss this particular Vote now?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I know nothing of any promise given by the Prime Minister. All my duty is to put the Votes in the order in which they appear upon the Paper for the day.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

I may be mistaken, as I am speaking from memory, without consulting the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I understood that the Prime Minister made the statement that we should go through these Estimates in the order in which they appeared in the White Paper, with the exception that the one dealing with the Weir steel houses would be taken on Thursday. Now there seems to have been an entirely different order adopted. It makes it difficult to come to the House with the necessary preparation for Estimates of this description.

4.0 P.M.

Photo of Mr Stanley Baldwin Mr Stanley Baldwin , Bewdley

May I answer? Speaking also from memory—I did not know that the point was going to be raised—I am confident that either on Thursday or Friday I specified this order in full as it appears on the Paper so as to give hon. Members plenty of time.

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

There are four items connected with this Supplementary Vote. I think hon. Members will be familiar with the first. It is for the expenses of a special inquiry into the incidence of mental defect, which was announced in the House a little time ago. The Board of Control and the Board of Education; are proceeding with that inquiry, and the item mentioned is for two-thirds of the expenses to be borne by the Board of Control, the remaining one-third being borne by the Board of Education. The next item concerns the costs in connection with a legal action which is known by the title of Harnett v. Bond, and the Committee will find, on page 21 of the Estimate, a full explanation of the circumstances in which we have to ask today for an additional sum of £2,800. It, in fact, represents the sum of £250 which was paid into Court with a denial of liability, and which was taken out by the plaintiff, and, as a consequence, the payment of certain legal costs which are enumerated on the Paper. I shall be happy, of course, to answer further questions concerning that matter to the best of my ability.

The next item is "Contributions towards expenses of local authorities," under the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913. The revised estimates of the local authorities of their current year's expenditure shows that a further sum of £5,700 to pay grants on account is required, while claims in respect of their 1924–25 expenditure shows that a further sum of £17,300 was required to meet the balance of grant in respect of that year. As hon. Members know, the Exchequer has to make contributions on the basis of 50 per cent. of the approved expenditure. The last item is a very small one, namely, the extra amount which has to be paid for the clothing and allowances of additional patients at Rampton State Institution. That, I am sorry to say is an institution where more patients have had to go, and in that respect a further small sum is required. There is an Appropriation-in-Aid of additional contributions from patients in respect of the same institution—a sum of £518 towards maintenance, with an additional sum of £182 also in respect of contributions towards maintenance from relatives and others. I think in that brief explanation I have at any rate pointed out the main features which distinguish the Vote on this occasion.

Photo of Mr Charles Ammon Mr Charles Ammon , Camberwell North

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether in the Vote is included payment for the agreement between the Ministry of Health, the Metropolitan Asylums Board, and the London County Council for the study and treatment of encephalitis lethargica at Winchmore Hill?

Photo of Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence , Leicester West

I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.

My object is to call attention to the item which appears on page 21 "Damages and Costs in Legal Action." The hon. Gentleman devoted only a very short space in his speech to this very important matter. I am quite sure that the Minister will have the sympathy of this Committee when he comes to defend the action of the Ministry over the whole of this affair, because at the time the action was taken which has resulted in his having to come to-day, and ask us for £2,800, it was not his fortune to be adorning the bench upon which he now sits. But it is impossible for us and for this Committee to understand why we ale now being called upon to vote this sum without some consideration of the events which have led up to this amount; and this is the first time that the Committee has had an opportunity of taking these events into its cognisance, because on previous occasions the subject of this vote has been sub-judice, and it would therefore have been somewhat improper to have dealt with the matter.

Broadly, the events concerning this case were as follow. A number of years ago a man called Harnett was certified as a lunatic and was incarcerated in a private lunatic asylum called Malling Place. He was released from that lunatic asylum, according to the statement of the medical officer of the asylum, on 28 days' leave; and, according to his own view, he was discharged. When he was released—put it at the smallest on 28 days' leave—he found that his brother had charge of his property, and he could not get control of it. Accordingly, he went to the Board of Control in order to investigate the matter, and, when he was there he interviewed Dr. Bond, one of the Board. Dr. Bond, instead of attending to his grievance, forcibly detained Harnett and sent him back to the asylum, this being the third day out of the 28 days that, accordng to the medical officer of the asylum, be was entitled to be on leave. He remained in the custody of the asylum for a period of eight years. He then managed to escape, and, having remained in hiding for over 14 days, he claimed the privilege which is accorded by the existing Lunacy Act to a patient in an asylum who has escaped and remained in hiding for more than a certain period of me, and he demanded that he be not sent back to the asylum unless he was re-certified. The doctors who were called in to certify him failed to do so, and, accordingly, he retained his liberty.

Thereupon, he brought an action for damages against Dr. Bond, the member of the Board of Control under the Ministry of Heath, and the medical officer of the asylum, Dr. Adams, for wrongful detention. The jury, after hearing the case in all its particulars, decided that Harnett was sane, that he was sane when he called upon Dr. Bond, that Dr. Bond's detention of him was illegal, and that the consequences of his detention were that Harnett had been detained in a lunatic asylum for eight years when he was a sane man; and they awarded Harnett £25,000 against Dr. Bond and £5,000 against Dr. Adams. I should have stated that prior to the trial Dr. Bond admitted that he had committed a technical breach of the Lunacy Laws, and, on his behalf, £10 was tendered to Harnett as compensation for the injuries which he had received. The case was then taken to the Court of Appeal by the Law Officers of the Crown, on the ground that the jury had awarded too heavy damages, because they had taken into account the eight years of incarceration that Harnett had suffered, which was too remote a consideration to be taken into account when the only breach had been the forcible detention for one and a-half hours in Dr. Bond's office. The Court allowed the appeal, and ordered a new trial. Harnett appealed against that decision to the House of Lords, and the Clown's case was sustained by the House of Lords.

The position then was that Harnett, if he wished to pursue the matter further, had to enter a fresh trial against Dr. Bond, and that he started to do. At this point, the Ministry made an offer to Harnett to settle the case. They offered a little more than £10 which they had offered in the first instance, and I believe I am right in saying that they offered in all a sum of £250. This was rejected by Harnett. Finally, the Ministry offered £250 on behalf of damages and a further sum of £2,550 on behalf of costs. After some negotiation, this revised offer was accepted, and the case has now been brought to an end.

I venture to suggest that this case is a very serious one in more than one respect. In the first place, it shows the very serious danger that a private individual may run if he imagines that a doctor under the Ministry of Health knows and will respect; the law, because it is quite clear that as a consequence of going to Dr. Bond and putting his case before him he was subjected as a lunatic to eight years' detention when in the opinion of the jury he was sane and remained perfectly sane during the whole time. In the second place, the case shows that such an individual, in endeavouring to obtain his rights, is liable to lose practically the whole of his fortune. I understand that, whatever the State may have to pay as a result of this action, Harnett has had to spend over £25,000, and he will be a net loser in the sum of £20,000. Therefore, this man has not only suffered eight years' detention as a lunatic when he was sane, but, in endeavouring to get his rights, he has also had to pay a sum of £25,000. Finally, although Harnett has suffered all these indignities and loss, the British taxpayer has to pay the figures which are set out, some £3,000 or £4,000 already, and a further sum of £2,800 which we now are called upon to vote.

I think we are entitled to complain against the whole method in which this case has been dealt with. We are entitled to complain, first of all, that the Ministry of Health has pursued its way, and in the course of that they have crushed this very unfortunate man. I do not think the Ministry of Health have any desire to be vindictive against this man. I think they must recognise that by his martyrdom he has done a considerable service in calling attention to some of the serious dangers of the present Lunacy Law, under which a man who was sane could be detained all that time, and, possibly, the Commission that is now sitting to examine the lunacy question was in part, at any rate, due to the public sentiment which was aroused by this case when it was originally tried. I do further suggest that this House, not merely representing the freedom and rights of private citizens, but also representing the taxpayers of this country, has a very legitimate cause of grievance against the Ministry of Health for the way it has bungled this affair from the start. Here was an obvious case of very grave injustice to a man. The Ministry of Health decided to stand by their doctor, and, in the teeth of the fact -that this man had been detained eight years in a lunatic asylum, they offered to compensate him by a beggarly £10. I have not seen the details of the negotiations, but if he had been offered a sum at all comparable with the terrible wrong inflicted, coupled with a very strong expression of regret, and a desire that he would suffer as little as possible from the consequences of what had happened, I think it quite possible he might have accepted that amount, and a very much lower expenditure would have been put upon the taxpayers of this country.

There is a further question, which, I think, we are entitled to ask. Here is a doctor who, according to his own admission, committed a technical breach of the lunacy regulations. It may be, from his point of view, a technical breach, but a technical breach which results in eight years' detention of a man as a lunatic when he was sane is an exceedingly serious thing, and I think we are entitled to ask what attitude the Ministry takes up with regard to Dr. Bond. I have not the smallest wish to throw any stone at Dr. Bond. I do not know him personally, and, for all I know, he may be a thoroughly worthy, conscientious servant, a man who has nothing but a desire to do his duty in the position which he occupies; but I do say that if a workman had been guilty, even by accident, of a technical breach which resulted in injury to another individual, and which resulted in a loss of such magnitude to the taxpayers of this country, that it amounted to several times hits own annual salary, I believe you would find that that workman would be dismissed with some pretty hard words, and would have great difficulty in obtaining another job.

I do not say that ought to have been done in this case but I do say we are entitled to know before we vote this money what was done in regard to Dr. Bond; if he has not been dismissed, why he has not been dismissed; and what grounds the Minister has for retaining this man in this position. That is the case on which I beg leave to move the reduction of this Vote by £100. I think that the story which these facts reveal is one of the meanest in the annals of the Government Departments of this country—the ruin financially of a man who had already suffered such grievous wrong. I think it would have been very much better if the taxpayer had been called upon even to face a somewhat larger bill in order that justice might have been more speedily done, and this unfortunate man might have had some redress. But not only is that not so, but, I think, the taxpayer has been actually called upon to bear an additional burden because the meanness of this Department overreached itself.

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

I hope the Committee will forgive my intervening again, but I want immediately to reply to the hon. Gentleman. Let me say at once that I think he has been wholly misinstructed upon the facts of this case, and I notice he himself stated he had not had the opportunity of going through the documents and papers, and I presume he must have read some very scanty account of this case. I want, if I may say so, to be very guarded in my reply in the interests of Mr. Harnett himself. I understand that in a few weeks another action of his is about to be tried in the King's Bench Division, dealing, at any rate to some extent, with the issues which have been raised in this action, and, therefore, as that case is to be tried by a jury, certain comments which otherwise I would have made, I think had better not be made now.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The position seems to be one of some difficulty. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will further elucidate it? If the issues are the same, or practically the same, or if some are the same, I do not see how this discussion can proceed.

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

What I am informed: is that Mr. Harnett has now issued proceedings against the doctor who originally gave the certificate of insanity, and, to a large extent, I suppose, the same issues will arise in this case. I can make my reply to the Committee, I think, without any reference to the issues themselves, because the only reason why I want at all to go into the merits is to repudiate very strongly the allegations made this afternoon against Dr. Bond, who is a Commissioner of the Board of Control and a very respected public servant, allegations, apparently, that he was dishonest and ought to be dismissed.

Photo of Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence , Leicester West

I did not say anything of the kind. I said it might be suggested that he ought to be dismissed, but I said I wanted an explanation to justify there in retaining him.

Photo of Mr Alfred Short Mr Alfred Short , Wednesbury

On the point of Order. Is it right that this Committee should be considering and discussing this matter if these issues are once again to be brought before the Courts. Would it not be wise for the Minister to withdraw this Vote for the time being, pending a final settlement of this case? I venture to point out that if this discussion goes on, having regard to what the Minister said, some of us are going to reply very severely to his interpretation of the statement of my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I certainly think that if the issues involved in a pending action are the same as those involved in a past action, the Committee cannot go into the case. It would be prejudicing the issue of the further action. If the hon. Gentleman can say anything without going into these matters, the discussion can proceed, but, obviously, it is not an easy position.

Photo of Mr Walter Runciman Mr Walter Runciman , Swansea West

How is it possible for the Committee to proceed with the consideration of this Vote unless they are to enter into the merits of the case? I quite recognise the undesirability of anyone in this House or outside expressing any view on the case, which I am not sure is not sub judice now, and one of the positions in which we are placed is that the Government or their servants are involved. We cannot possibly discuss the figures in this Vote unless the merits of the case come under review. May I suggest, therefore, that it is improper that this Vote should be brought before the Committee until such time as the Committee are free to go into the whole of the case?

Photo of Sir Douglas Hogg Sir Douglas Hogg , St Marylebone

The action which has been referred to, and which is now pending, is an action in which, I understand, Mr. Harnett is suing the doctor who originally certified him in November, 1912, I think it was. The action which Mr. Harnett brought against Dr. Bond and Dr. Adam was an action in which it was expressly admitted by Mr. Harnett that he had been properly certified as insane, and the only issue before the jury in that action—I speak from knowledge, having been engaged both in private practice and afterwards as Attorney-General in the case—was whether or not he was still insane when he went to Dr. Bond, or whether, as he has alleged, he had recovered by that time. Therefore, although it is quite true the question of Dr. Bond's conduct might properly be discussed, as has been said by hon. Members opposite, the question whether Mr. Harnett was or was not originally insane cannot be relevant. Therefore, I suggest there would be no difficulty in discussing this Vote without in any way impinging upon the issue involved in the second action, as to whether or not the doctor's conduct in the original certification was justified or not.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

It no doubt may be possible to discuss this matter apart from the second action, but it seems to me the difficulty here will be to keep the discussion to the narrow limits which the Attorney-General suggests. I would, therefore, propose that this Vote might be taken later. That can be done, I think, without prejudice, and we can proceed with the next item. Of course, it may be that it will have to be brought up in a different form. I would, therefore, suggest that the hon. Gentleman should move that the original Motion be with-drawn.

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

Of course I ought to say we cannot tell when this other action will be reached. I think it will be reached in a short time.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

Obviously, the position is one of considerable difficulty. It may serve as a precedent. I should not like to rule definitely and finally on this matter without some opportunity for consideration. But if the Motion be with-drawn now, it can come on later.

Motion for reduction, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.